Imagine Cup 2008 – Paris by Bike

Imagine Cup 2008 – Paris by Bike

A couple of us decided to try out one of the more green/environmentally friendly forms of transport to get around Paris.  We eventually managed to work out how to hire a bike from one of the numerous bike racks around the city – this took a number of attempts as the instructions weren’t at all obvious. This would have to be one of the most enjoyable ways to get around Paris, although it can be a little scary sometimes when the normal road rules don’t seem to apply.







Imagine Cup 2008 – Australia makes the Finals

Imagine Cup 2008 – Australia makes the Finals

The top six teams for the Software Design Invitational for the 2008 Imagine Cup competition were announced earlier today as:

  • Australia – SOAK (Smart Operational Agricultural toolKit)
    David Burela, Dimaz Pramudya, Ed Hooper, Long Zheng
  • Brazil – Ecologix
    Carlos Eduardo Rodrigues, Eduardo Sonnino, Renato Ferreria, Roberto Sonnino
  • China – UniqueStudio
    Jing Pan, Yang Liu, Haojian Jin, Zhou Yan
  • Hungary – Digital Mania
    Ákos Kapui, Laszló Zöld, Bálint Orosz, Gergely Orosz
  • Portugal – (void*)
    André Sousa, Marco Barbosa, Martinha Rocha, José Faria
  • Slovakia – Housekeepers
    Marián Hönsch, Michal Kompan, Jakub Šimko, Dušan Zeleník

Imagine Cup 2008 – Round 1A

Imagine Cup 2008 – Round 1A

Yesterday was the first round of competition for the 2008 Imagine Cup worldwide finals.  This is where the students get to showcase to the judges the software that they have spent the last year working on.

The overall format for the finals are that it’s broken into three rounds:

  • Round 1: Split into part A (yesterday afternoon/evening) and part B (this morning), the students get to present for the first time in each part.  Each presentation is 20 minutes with 5 minutes for Q & A, and each presentation is to a different set of 4 judges.
  • Round 2: At the end of Round 1 the top 12 teams will advance to Round 2 where they again will have to present to a panel of judges.
  • Round 3: From 12, the competitors will be trimmed down to just 6 teams that will again present, this time in a much more public forum.  A set of 7 VIP judges will determine who is the overall winner of the Imagine Cup 2008 Software Design competition.

So, what are my thoughts so far? Well I can’t go into any details until the results are known to the students but I will reiterate a comment that I’ve made previously about the Imagine Cup competition:

Throughout the Imagine Cup competition the students have built some software to address a problem that they have identified based on the statement "Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment". However at this point in the competition what matters the most is being able to convey what they have done to the judges in just under 20 minutes. This means getting their presentation absolutely perfect – no mistakes, no issues with demos, everything has to go smoothly.  This means practice, practice, practice and when you think you have it right, practice it some more!

Good luck to all the students for Round 1B and for the rest of the competition.

Imagine Cup: Implementation V’s Idea

Imagine Cup: Implementation V’s Idea

This morning I received the following enquiry regarding my experiences with the Imagine Cup (Software Design Invitational):

If we choose to work on a project and the idea is good, but because of complications if we cud not implement it fully, will that result in negative impact?

My response is a little mixed, essentially the short answer is yes it will but the long answer is no, so long as you prioritise.  Of course, if it comes down to two projects that have equal merit with regards to the concept, the impact on the end user etc then the project that is the most complete will score higher than an incomplete implementation.

One of the facets of this competition that so many competitors forget is that at the end of the day there are a lot of entries and a very short amount of time in which the judges have to make a decision.  The winning entry might not necessarily be fully complete but the WOW has to be there.  For example there were a lot of surprises by this year’s winners.  In fact two of the most complete projects didn’t even make the top three!

Remember that the whole competition is time constrained – you need to work out what the most important features of your project are, what the sell factors are, how to best deliver the WOW both in your solution and your presentation.  This last point is quite important – you can have the best technical solution but if you can’t present it then you are not going to do well (word of advice: find someone from the business school to join the team as they can help with selling the solution!)

Imagine Cup: The Judge’s Pick

Imagine Cup: The Judge’s Pick

Most people that I spoke to who watched the software design final of the Imagine Cup were a little surprised with the results. To be honest my preferences would have been different but in hindsight I think I can see the rational behind the result.

One of the key judging criteria was around design of the solution which can be broken further into the level of innovation and the impact it would have. Innovation being what sets the solution apart from existing products/techniques and the creative use of technology to address the identified problem. The level of impact is determined by looking at the breadth of people that could benefit and the significance of the solution to that group of people.

In the case of Serbia, who have clearly done the most work out of all the teams in the finals, the concept of a driving simulator is not that new (since we have all played a racing game at some stage) and their solution is simply incremental improvements on an existing concept. Whilst most people could benefit from using such a simulator when learning to drive, there are other techniques for learning to drive that are adequate, so in terms of impact this solution would rank quite low. I’m sure that despite not being in either the top 3 or invited to the Accelerator these guys will go on to be really successful with DriveOn.

The other team that had a really polished product was Austria with their evolutionary electronic whiteboard. Think Microsoft Surface but designed for the class room and without the $10K price tag. I say evolutionary because despite being completed to the point of being a shippable product, their solution really does innovate, mearly extending existing electronic whiteboard functionality. Further, the level of impact is low as it is a tool for teachers to use with their existing teaching process. Again I would hope that these guys go on to sell this despite not having the opportunity to attend the Accelerator.
Most people agreed that what the Thai team had to offer was both innovative, as it took text and rendered it as a series of images, and had deep impact, as it potentially enables the large population who are unable to read, to read.

Similarly the Korean team with their custom built electronic sensory gloves demonstrated significant innovation. Clearly the level for impact for a select group of people is second to none. However as someone pointed the theme was “… better education for all” which is perhaps why they ended up in second.

I think the big surprise for a lot of people was that Jamaica pipped aireland for third place. On the one hand Ireland had a solution that really innovated to help people learn sign language using sign recognition via a low budget web cam but again it could be argued that this only impacts a select group of people and I think that the team needed that extra bit of bite to their presentation. On the other hand you have the Jamaica team that on the surface didn’t appear to be that innovative. However, they had probably the best (with perhaps the exception of the Mexican team) presentations and attempted to deliver on a vision that would truly deliver a better education for all.

The other thing to bare in mind regarding the final stage of the competition is that the judges are primarily business, rather than technical, leaders. This means that you need to sell the vision, sell the solution and sell the team. I would suggest that at each stage in the sofware design competition the focus moves away from the technical, towards the business. For example at the national finals the students might have been expected to show code, or discuss in detail their architecture. In the early rounds of the finals they might have been asked about the high level architecture but the focus was more on their use of technology. Then lastly in the finals the focus was more on being able to identify a problem and execute on building a solution to address said problem.

Imagine Cup: Awards Ceremony and Results

Imagine Cup: Awards Ceremony and Results

Today is the final day of the 2007 Imagine Cup world finals and I’m currently sitting in the front of the Vista hall (appropriately named given it’s an MS event). Before going through the winning annoucement I would like to echo the words of Shin-ll Kim that all the students regardless of how far they got in the finals “are winners”. The quality of submissions this year are all of an exceptional standard and really do reflect the cream of students from around the globe.

With 344 students from 65 countries the atmosphere in the room was amazing prior to the announcements. And the excitement increased through the introductory remarks, a traditional dance and a martial arts routine.

The results for the Photography category:
1st – Team Maraqja, Poland (Iwona Bielecka, Malgorzata Lopaciuk)
2nd – Team Black and White, Croatia (Aleksandar Kordic, Igor Matosa)
3rd – Team Awesome, Canada (Patrick Struys, Ryan Marr)

The results for the Short Film category:
1st – Skylined, Poland
2nd – Team Circle, Taiwan
3rd – Papa-Paçoca, Brazil

The results for the Interface Design category:
1st – Team OOT Graphics Studio, Austria (Verena Lugmayr, Claudia Oster)
2nd – Team FrontFree Studio UI, China (Dongjing Yao, Yushi Ma)
3rd – Team Atomnium, France (Manon Gaucher, Flavien Charlon)

The results for the Project Hoshimi category
1st – Team OIA, Argentina (Pablo Gauna, Nicolás Alejandro Rodriguez Vilela)
2nd – Team Arenium, France (Laure Portet, Régis Hanol)
3rd – Team vladan.simov, Serbia (Vladan Simov)

The results for the IT Challenge category:
1st – Zhifeng Chen, China
2nd – Romain Larmet, France
3rd – Llie Cosmin Viorel, Romania

The results for the Algorithm category:
1st – Team Psyho, Poland (Radoslaw Czyz)
2nd – Team Roman, Ukraine (Roman Koshlyak)
3rd – Team SzSz, Hungry (Szilveszter Szebeni)

The results for the Web Development category:
1st – Team APB, France
2nd – Team Red Dawn, Ireland
3rd – Team FrontFree Studio – Web, China

The results for the Embedded Development category:
1st – Team Trivent Dreams, Brazil
2nd – Team Aether, Romania
3rd – Team SEED, China

The results for the Software Design category:
1st – Team 3KC, Thailand
2nd – Team En#605, Korea
3rd – Team ICAD, Jamaica

BT Innovation Accelerator program: In addition to the prizes, the Imagine Cup also acts as a feeder to the BT Innovation Accelerator program to which 6 teams will be invited to participate. This program has been setup as a partnership between BT and MS and seeks to take the student projects and catapult them forward. The top 3 student projects automatically qualify for this program which leaves 3 spots open to any other team at the world finals. Earlier this morning I was fortunate enough to provide my thoughts as to which additional teams should go through to the accelerator. The 3 teams that were just announced are:

Ireland – As I mentioned in my previous post on the final 6, the Irish entry was clearly innovative and represented just the beginning of an idea that can go much further.

Mexico – After not qualifying for the second round a number of judges felt this team had all the ingredients to really benefit from being involved with the accelerator.

Poland – A number of projects included use of Microsofts multipoint technology that allows multiple mice to be used on a single computer. What the Polish team did was truly innovative as it not only allowed multiple cursors (on a single computer) to be controlled remotely across a network and for each cursor to maintain its own in focus window. Of course by itself this wouldn’t be that valuable as the remote user wouldn’t be able to see what they are clicking, so the team also built in remote sharing capabilities. A remote user could connect to any number of desktops and use Shift-Tab to switch between them – very like using Alt-Tab to switch between programs.

Congratulations to everyone who competed in this year’s Imagine Cup. Next year is in France and the theme is the Environment.

Imagine Cup: Software Design Finals

Imagine Cup: Software Design Finals

I’m sitting here in the main hall of the Imagine Cup 2007 listening to the final set of presentations for the Software Design invitational. The first three sessions I have already seen and it was pleasing to see that they have taken on board some of the judges comments in their presentations.

(Team inGest: Daniel Kelly, Cathal Coffey, Eric McClean, Mark Clerkin)
These guys already had a well oiled presentation and I really enjoyed the additonal video at the end that showed the process of building the software. Through a pair of red and green gloves combined with a standard web cam their software, appropriately named Signal, was able to track hand and finger position in order to interprete signs and convert them to the corresponding letters or word. Signal is able to help the user learn sign language through the demonstration of signs. The web cam then record their motion and determines if they made the sign appropriately.

(SMOR Team: Neven Tubić, Milan Stojić, Ivan Vujić, Sava Čajetinac)
Unfortunately due to the hardware that DriveOn requires it was setup on its own stage which made it hard for the audience to see what was going on. DriveOn is a three (actually multiple) screen driving simulatior specifically designed for teaching students to drive. In addition to building the rendering engine, the students also built an instructor management UI that allows the instructor to setup scenarios for the student to work through. For example they can add/remove traffic, can puncher a tire or change traffic lights. It is hard to believe that 4 students managed to build this entire solution in only 10 months

(En#605: Lim Chan-kyu, Min Kyoung-hoon, Lim Byoung-su, Jeong Ji-hyeon)
The host nation really delivered a well rehersed presentation which clearly identified the problem, presented their solution, Finger Code, and how it works. Simply Finger Code is a set of smart gloves that a deaf blind person can wear and receive/transmit letters in the form of finger braille.

Out of the second set of three teams to present I had only seen the Thai application, which meant I had to wait in anticipation for Austria and Jamaica.

(3KC Returns: Prachaya Phaisanwiphatpong, Vasan Chienmaneetaweesin, Jatupon Sukkasem, Pathompol Saeng-Uraiporn)
The Thai application, LiveBook, can essentially be broken into two parts. On the one hand they have taken a standard web cam and used it to OCR any book or text (including handwriting). Then taking the text they search a database for images that correspond to words. The images are then presented inline in the text using some nice 3D rendering. In this way the images can be used to ‘interprete’ the text by someone who can’t read.

(OOT Development Team: Michael Hurnaus, Juergen Oberngruber, Claudia Oster, Christian Schafleitner)
INTOI – Interchange of Ideas is an electronic whiteboard that allows the user to do a wide variety of activities such as zooming in/out, loading and interacting with images and other media. The system was presented well with attention paid to the use in the classroom.

(ICAD: Imran Allie, Conroy Smith, Ayson Baxter, Damion Mitchell)
CADI is a collaborative real-time workspace that enables the teacher to share notes, communicate (including language translation) and interact with students. The Jamaican team presented their solution with a single presenter who captured the audience, while the other team mates were actors in the demo.

All six finalists displayed all the characteristics of a winning entry. As one of the other pre-finalist judges commented “I’m glad I’m not working out the winning entry!”

Good luck to all the remaining entrants. Tomorrow we will discover the judges’ verdict

Imagine Cup: Round 2 done, now for the Finals

Imagine Cup: Round 2 done, now for the Finals

Congratulations to the following teams who made it through to the final round of the software design invitational of the 2007 Imagine Cup:



* This was the first time Ireland has sent a team to thumbs up to the boys for getting this far!

** Congratulations to the host nation that despite severe language issues have made it through

*** These guys wore green and yellow “Jamaican Inside” t-shirts that were a great parody on the “Intel Inside” slogan.

Yet again it was an awesome experience to be involved with the judging process.  The final round is to be judge by a special panel of VIP judges that represent both Microsoft and Sponsors.

Imagine Cup, Software Design Judging – Round 1

Imagine Cup, Software Design Judging – Round 1

The format for the judging of the software design invitational for the Imagine Cup 2007 has changed slightly from 2005 when I was last involved.  This year, instead of having a lightning round where we got to know the competitors, we were straight into round 1 today.  Round 1 is to be split over two days with each team presenting to 2 different sets of judges.  There are 55 teams in this division this year which have been broken into 6 pools – this means that each set of judges sees at least 9 teams in both halves of round 1.

Two teams from each pool will advance to Round 2 where they will again be broken into pools.  This time there will be 3 pools and they will have to present to yet another set of judges in order to qualify for the final round of 6. 

After watching 9 presentations this afternoon there are a number of general comments to be made:

Firstly I would like to reiterate the marking scheme that the students have and that the judges are marking against:

Project Definition – 15%

Design – 60%

Development – 15%

Presentation -10%

I think in most cases the presentation skills weren’t too bad – although there is always room for improvement, which comes with more practices.  The biggest difficulty I found was with the articulation of the project definition.  Unfortunately although this is only weighted to 15% if students don’t get this across then they will loose marks across the board.  Failing to communicate the project definition is usual a result of a poorly structured or ill prepared presentation and if the judges fail to understand the project then it is hard to know whether the design and development of the application addresses the project.

There are other specific feedback comments that have been passed onto the relevant teams but for the most part teams should focus on conveying the project definition and how their solution addresses it.  For the most part the innovation behind the application will then be self-evident.

Korea: Imagine Cup 2007 World Finals

Korea: Imagine Cup 2007 World Finals

Last night I arrived in Seoul to help judge the finals of the software design invitational as part of the 2007 Imagine Cup. Despite having been involved in the Imagine Cup in both 2004 and 2005 I wasn’t sure what to expect – one of the best things about the finals competition is that each year it is in a different country, and each year it is run slightly differently.  What really took me by surprise was the density of the population (I’m guessing in hindsight I shouldn’t have been that surprised with the millions of people living in Seoul) – there was endless identical high-rise apartment blocks along either bank of the Hangang river.  Although that said, they have at least preserved some semblance of parkland along the bank itself.

As the first round of judging kicks off this afternoon I just wanted to draw students’ attention to a number of resources that might be useful in their preparations:

  • Comments by a number of judges from previous years

  • Feedback by myself regarding my expectations (note that the format for this year has changed slightly)

At the welcome dinner last night the order that the teams in the software design invitation will present was determined, with each team being drawn at random and placed in a group (A – F) in a time slot.  Each group will present twice in round 1 before two sets of judges.  Given that the judges have also come from all around the globe I think it would be worthwhile for students to take a moment to review the list of judges.  Although the judging will be conducted in an unbiased manner, each judge will be basing their assessment on their background, experiences and expectations.  There is a mix of both academic and commercial experience, which in itself will influence whether judges are looking for a commercial or a theoretical solution for the problem the students have selected.  As of the time of this post the judges haven’t been allocated to a group, once they have all students should take the time to familiarise themselves with which judges they will be presenting to.

Imagine Cup meets Second Life

Imagine Cup meets Second Life

I have been a bit remiss for not having congratulating the winners of the Australian Imagine Cup competition.  Whilst this was blogged a while ago by Frank and Nick I would still like to pass on my congratulations as this is a significant achievement for those involved.  However, this is only really the first stage and, as I posted a while ago, there is much more to the competition to be found at the world wide finals, this year to be held in Korea.

As some people will already know I have been invited to attend the finals as one of the judges for the software design competition.  This is an experience I’m definitely looking forward to and as such I have been eagerly watching some of the activities that have been going on around the world.  One such event that Microsoft EMEA have put together is the Imagine Cup Gallery in Second Life:

The Imagine Cup Gallery in Second Life runs until August 5th 2007 so you can visit anytime. However we’re holding three open events for you to come and meet the different teams and these will be held from 19.00-21.00 Central European Time on July 12th, 19th and 26th 2007. If you already have a Second Life Avatar teleport directly to the Microsoft Island

More information can be found at

Imagine Cup Experiences

Imagine Cup Experiences


A week or so ago Nick Ellery (still can’t find a blog for him but he made a ballsy comment about Women in IT on the Academic blog), the new academic intern with the DPE team here in Australia, asked me to comment on some of my experiences with the Imagine Cup worldwide finals.  I was a finalist judge in 2004 (Brazil) and 2005 (Japan) and I cannot rave enough about the level of this competition. 

If you are a student who is in the process of entering this years Imagine Cup please feel free to comment on this post and I’ll try and answer any questions you might have regarding the finals process (or at least based on what they were in the past – no guarantee they will be the same this year)

Finals Format

The format usually consists of three phases:

  • Introductory round (not judged): In this round the contestants are given their first opportunity to meet with the judges for approximately 10 minutes to give overview of their entry.  This round is typically held the day before the main event and in the two years that I was involved varied between a booth setup (where contestants gave an overview/demo of their product at an exhibition style booth) and a presentation room.  I would suggest that there is a high correlation between the groups that made effective use of this round with those that make the finals round.  Some pointers for this round:

    • Think “elevator pitch” – this round is short and sharp.  Get started on time, don’t waste time with power point and you don’t all need to present.  Some groups insisted on having all participants talking – not necessary in this round.
    • Jazz it up as much as possible – this round is where you get to wow the judges into coming back to see more.  If they aren’t interested the first time round you are going to struggle to convince them of the merit of your entry in the next round
    • Get to know your judges – make sure you introduce everyone in the team but don’t do over kill (you’ll have more time in the next round); simple name, area of interest will probably suffice. Listen to what the judges have to say!!!!!  This includes where they are from (academic or industry), the questions they ask and their body language.  Take notes at the end of this round based on the judges (they will be doing the same about you) so that you can tailor your presentation to address their interests

  • Main round: In the main round each team is given 25 minutes (5 minutes allocated for transition) to present their entry.  The teams will present to the same set of judges they saw in the introductory round so they can assume that the judges haven’t forgotten everything (ie don’t spend too long on the same things).  Presentations are held in a separate presentation room so make sure you can move in, get setup and ready to go within a couple of minutes.  Although there are 5 minutes allocated, don’t be surprised if the previous group goes overtime or takes a minute or two to get off the stage – the less setup you have to do the better.  Some pointers for this round:

    • Make the most of the time – The competition is NOT about who you are or what you have done, so don’t waste too much time on your background. The competition IS about your entry – focus on background to the problem, your approach and the entry itself
    • Keep up the interest – In the opening round you will have hopefully captured the attention of the judges.  In this round you need to renew and foster this interest.  Do this by integrating “boring” content between bits of “interesting” content.  The reality is that you do have to cover things like the architecture of the solution, but you need to present it in a way that will maintain the interest of the judges.
    • Your application is not just a 3tier architecture – Don’t just drop hype words into your architecture – particularly if you don’t understand them and/or you aren’t using that technology.  Focus on what differentiates your solution and the areas where you are pushing the boundaries of any technology.
    • Who is the target market – This competition is NOT about building a commercial product BUT it needs to have a target market.  Who’s going to use the product? What’s the research behind the market demand? Have you thought about how the entry could be commercialised?  Is your solution ready to go, or does it need packaging or to be added into existing products?

  • Finals round: From the main round a number of teams (I think 6 or so) are selected to go through to the finals round.  In 2004 this was done in the same presentation room as the main round with the difference being that the other competitors get to sit in and watch and that they were presenting to the other judges.  In 2005 this was done in a massive conference hall with hundreds of guests invited and to a select group of finalist judges (myself included).  Some pointers for this round:

    • Introduce yourself – remember not all the judges will have met you in the earlier rounds and given their busy schedule they probably won’t have had an opportunity to look at your entry.  This is a little harder than the main round as you don’t know the background of the new judges.  If you can perhaps ask some of the other teams what the judges are like, what their questions were etc as this can give you a heads up as to the questions they might ask of you.
    • Get it right – if your demos had issues in the earlier rounds then make sure you fix them up and practice, practice, practice.  The winning entry will not only be good, they will present well too.  Take a look at previous winning entries and see how well polished they are.
    • Be entertaining – make the audience laugh and/or empathise with what you have done.  Make sure they aren’t laughing at you, rather with you!
    • Find the balance – you must present the technical details of your application but remember that this tends to be the dry part of your presentation so you need to focus on the parts that make your entry stand out from the pack.  Once you have identified them get someone with a keen graphical eye to present the information in an eye catching, yet meaningful, way. 
    • Don’t use Powerpoint – Powerpoint is for those people who can’t present.  If you must use powerpoint then keep it minimalistic and avoid using the standard templates.

Remember unlike the earlier rounds the finals competition is multi-stage.  Get to the venue early for ALL sessions.  Know what the schedule is, where you have to be places, how to get there and when your turn is going to be. Don’t think – I’ve just got to get through this round and then I can worry about the next round – take some time at the beginning to plan your campaign.

Most of all – don’t forget to have fun, meet as many people as you can and make sure you stay in contact with them.  The Imagine Cup is guaranteed to unlock doors – you just need to open them 😉

Imagine Cup gets the Developer Touch

Imagine Cup gets the Developer Touch

Across at International Developer there is an article that discusses the Imagine Cup competition that Microsoft runs annually.  I’m even quoted!

I gather that round 1 entries have now closed for the Australia arm of the competition which means that all the teams are now busy beavering away preparing for the national final.  Good luck to the teams and if there is one word of advice I could give – take Readify up on their offer of a mentoring service!

Imagine Cup (Australia) 2007

Imagine Cup (Australia) 2007

I just noticed that in the latest Flash the Imagine Cup is getting a good rap.  In fact you can go through to the Australian Imagine Cup website which, unlike the full Imagine Cup site (well at least the last time I looked), has a feed!! (disclaimer: even on the Australian site the IE feed button still doesn’t glow – you have to click on the RSS icon on the page????). Click on the following “Blog Button” to access the news/events feed.  For more information on the Imagine Cup you should check out Bernard’s blog